WORKS: The Complete Bagatelles
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1882 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Whoever coined the phrase ‘a mere bagatelle’ clearly didn’t know Beethoven’s Op. 126 or the sometimes wilfully experimental Op. 119 set. There’s nothing ‘mere’ about the miniatures of Beethoven’s last years, nor indeed, the earlyish (1795) standalone WoO 52. Brautigam already has the Sonatas under his belt. The BIS odyssey continues with the most complete ‘Complete Bagatelles’ to be found on disc – 13 pieces, not all officially designated ‘bagatelle’, corralled into two groups, are neatly interleaved with Opp. 33, 119 and 126.
The shortest piece weighs in at a Webernesque 11 seconds; anything over three minutes has rarity value; so a pianist has to be able to inhabit their wildly differing worlds. Brautigam explores the music with acuity and if, predictably, the fast dramatic Bagatelles bring out the best in him, his nurturing of the wayward C major WoO 56 turns a miniature into something surprisingly big. Occasionally, suppleness falls victim to robust plain-speaking and Beethoven’s charm eludes him. Two Viennese fortepiano copies lend their own vivid illumination – though the tuning in WoO 61 should never have slipped through the net. Melvyn Tan suavely recorded the opus-numbered Bagatelles on Beethoven’s own Broadwood, while those allergic to the sound of the fortepiano have aristocratic Alfred Brendel to cherish. But there’s far more than unmatched ‘completeness’ going for Brautigam’s new set. Paul Riley